Little to "RESPECT" in DHS's New Repatriation Agreements

By Dan Cadman on February 26, 2016

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a press release this week announcing the signing of a series of repatriation agreements with the government of Mexico. According to the press release, they were created as the result of meetings by the U.S.-Mexico "Repatriation Strategy and Policy Executive Coordination Team (RESPECT)".

The nine local agreements provide for the mechanisms by which the United States can deport, or remove under the less-formal means of voluntary departure, Mexican nationals back to their country.

The press release ends this way: "DHS, in close collaboration with our Government of Mexico partners, is also publicly releasing the base text of the arrangements. 'The public release of the arrangement is indicative of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's, and the Department of Homeland Security's, commitment to transparency and accountability,' said CBP Acting Executive Assistant Commissioner Woody Lee. ... Repatriation agreements can be found here."

I find such an assertion exceedingly strange. The public interest in bilateral agreements covering so important a subject as illegal immigration and removal — which has formed a significant portion of the dialogue surrounding the ongoing presidential campaign — so outweighs any vague security or law enforcement concern that an attempt to withhold it under one or another of the exemptions found in the Freedom of Information Act would almost certainly have led to a lawsuit, the result of which would have been ignominious defeat for administration attempts to drop the cone of silence over the agreements.

The public right to know is so obvious that casting the decision to release the agreements as unbridled virtue has a slightly smarmy tang to it.

Most people probably react to the press release by first asking themselves "Why nine local agreements instead of just one?" A fair question. Arguably, the nine agreements permit each regional border area to shape the mechanisms that best fit their respective areas on each side of the international line. Still, it strikes even me, a retired immigration officer with nearly 30 years government service, as an unorthodox way to do business. By comparison, to my knowledge there is only one bilateral repatriation agreement between the United States and Canada.

What's more, the most cursory glance at each of the agreements reveals a cut-and-paste approach to them. This implies that an overarching agreement could have been reached with specific addendums for each of the different repatriation ports to cover which international bridges were to be used, the hours of operation, etc.

So why are there nine different agreements? Perhaps because it obliges an interested observer to take the time to look at all of the agreements to determine whether there are any major shortcomings. There are. Such an examination reveals two significant limitations that perhaps the administration and DHS would prefer not become a focus of attention:

First, all nine of the agreements cover only repatriation of Mexican nationals. There is no provision for deportation of third-country nationals, such as the tens of thousands of Central Americans who flood across Mexico to attempt crossing into the United States illegally. This is of course a serious omission.

In fact, each of the nine local agreements contains the following proviso: "Any person delivered through removal to the Mexican authorities found not to be a national of Mexico should be returned to the DHS Officers as soon as possible." Again, by comparison, the U.S.-Canada bilateral agreement obliges each government to take back third-country nationals who entered from the other's territory.

Second, although each of the agreements makes unspecified provision for the possibility that aliens might be repatriated directly from the interior of the United States into the related Mexican local agreement region, there is no concurrent provision for repatriation of Mexicans into the interior of Mexico. Thus, if a Mexican national residing in the far south (for instance Chiapas State on the border with Guatemala) is arrested by Border Patrol agents in the Yuma, Ariz., sector after crossing the border illegally, he will be repatriated under the Yuma local agreement.

This means he will be deposited on the Mexican side at the town of San Luis Rio Colorado, just across the international boundary in Sonora State, not back to his home state of Chiapas. (See the map to get an understanding of how close San Luis Rio Colorado is to the U.S. border.) Needless to say, the deported alien will be immediately proximate to the border if he wishes to again attempt to reenter, substantially adding to the Border Patrol's workload given that there are thousands of these potential turnstile-reentrants being deposited all across the nine regional repatriation areas.

In sum, there is little to "RESPECT" in these lopsided agreements, which don't well serve American interests. One wonders why they were announced with such fanfare.